Should You Put a Foam Pad Under Hardwood Flooring?

Installing hardwood floor
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When installing solid hardwood flooring, you may be concerned about noise from people walking around transmitting to the floor below.

Can you install foam pad under solid hardwood flooring?  What about the kind of foam underlayment that goes under laminate flooring?

Bottom Line:

Foam padding should not be installed under hardwood flooring.  This includes the type used as underlayment for laminate flooring.

Acceptable Underlayments

Commonly accepted flooring underlayments are either red rosin paper or builder's felt.

These materials help to minimize squeaking between the bottom of the hardwood and the top of the subfloor.  However, neither absorb sound, nor do they make the surface softer to walk on (in the way that foam padding eases footfall on laminate flooring).

Sound Management

If you cannot use thick padding, how can you expect to mitigate sound?  By a combination of methods:

  1. Denser Hardwoods:  Solid hardwood itself does a remarkably good job of absorbing sound. Of all the types of flooring you can install, it is the best in that respect.  Within the category of solid hardwood, dense exotics like mahogany or Brazilian Cherry provide better sound absorption than less dense domestics like oak or pine.
  2. Solid Underlayment:  You can put down a solid (vs. foam) underlayment that is specially designed for absorbing sound. SoundEater, made by Impacta, is described as a "free floating underlayment designed for nail down hardwood flooring." A floating floor is one that does not need to be nailed down. So, in this case, the underlayment does not need to be nailed to the subfloor, though the hardwood will be nailed down to the underlayment.
  1. Rugs, Runners:  Adding rugs and runners will go a long ways toward eliminating the sounds of footsteps.